This morning started out like any other weekend or holiday - it's MLK day and everyone in our house is off, so we all stayed in a bed a little longer. Chris brought me my coffee to sip leisurely while I scrolled through social media on my phone. K had settled under the covers next to me with his iPad, and we snuggled and tickled, two of his favorite things.
But there were chores to be done, so when Chris went downstairs to get a workout in, I started stripping the sheets from everyone's bed. K went into the kitchen, presumably to make himself a sandwich, his breakfast of choice. I heard unusual sounds from the kitchen, so I went to check things out.
In the kitchen, I found my ceramic Starbucks travel mug had broken, and the pieces were all over the counter. I was sad for about a second - it was my favorite travel mug, a gift from a patient. But when you are the parent of a child with autism, especially one who is destructive, both intentionally or unintentionally, you learn not to get too attached to objects. My more immediate thought was K's safety. He'd obviously broken the mug, but had he cut himself in the process? I called his name and found him in the living room. I wasn't yelling or even upset - more concerned to see if he was hurt and bleeding.
But K was upset. As I walked in, he flipped our coffee table on it's side angrily and yelled. Surprised, I scolded him and told him to pick it up, at which point, he lunged at me - hitting and pinching HARD. K is about 5'7'' and at least 185 pounds. He is taller than me, outweighs me by over 50 pounds, and is VERY strong. I tried to stay calm and get in a position of control - attempting to move him towards his room, where he could calm down privately - but given our difference in size, this was difficult. He managed to head butt me, shove me, and kick me into a wall by the time I got him into his room.
Chris unfortunately did not hear any of this, as the elliptical trainer muffles the sounds of activity upstairs. I ran downstairs to tell him, shaken and shaking, and he came up to offer his assistance.
K calmed down in his room, and apologized when he came out with the sign and a verbalization of I'm sorry.
This is not the first time K has come after me. He has gone after both Chris and I, and at times his teachers at school. Today was maybe the worst incident thus far for me because I actually feared for my safety.
I've never been in a physical altercation in my life. I've never been hit by another person, so it is somewhat shocking how the flight or fight reaction takes over so quickly. In these situations it is my, and presumably everyone's, first thought to fight back. But I will not hit my child. I know it won't do any good, I know I don't want to hurt him, even though he is doing everything he can to hurt me. My first thought is everyone's safety - his, mine, my other son's, and my husband's.
But the most painful part of this is not my physical wounds. I will surely have some visible bruises from this episode tomorrow. The worst part is not understanding why my child, my usually "gentle giant" 13 year old, can, without tangible provocation, so viciously come after the people he loves most in this world. The helplessness I feel after these incidents take my breath away.
This is by far the most difficult thing we've faced as autism parents - and believe me when I say there are so many difficult things we face daily. It is not knowing what to do about it. It is the unpredictable nature of these outburst. It's wanting to protect everyone else from seeing or experiencing something like this. Even in the face of being physically attacked, my first thought is "What does this mean for K and his future?"
Is this just a puberty thing? Sure, we'll call the neurologist and talk about adjusting medications. But it beyond daunting to think about this happening on a regular basis.
So why write about it? First of all, it helps me process. Also, I need those who might experience the same thing to know they are not alone. I need to know that we are not alone, because when things like this happen, it is more isolating than I can describe. What I don't want is pity. Pity is useless. But I like to keep things real, - good, bad, and ugly...and this is it - this is our reality - part of our everyday life. And it's okay to admit that real life is sometimes pretty daunting.